Our roots began in Denver, as ISPCAN was founded by a local Pediatrician, Dr. Henry Kempe (founder of the Denver Kempe Center and Foundation located on the Children’s Hospital/Anschutz campus). Dr. Kempe recognized through his own medical practice the tragic issues of child abuse and neglect and understood that it would only be through the dedication of many professional and societal disciplines that these heartbreaking issues could be impacted. He also understood that child abuse and neglect was a worldwide issue and felt the moral obligation not to just protect children in Denver or the U.S., but to unite professionals globally to drive change and to save the lives of children.
In October 1975, Dr. C. Henry Kempe and 18 other professionals met in Bellagio, Italy, and formed an international working group focused on the problem of child abuse. The group consisted of child psychiatrists, a surgeon, pediatricians, psychologists, criminologists, social workers, and specialists in juvenile law. This meeting created the synergy to hold the first international conference on child abuse and neglect, which took place in 1976.
On July 7, 1977, the International Society for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect (ISPCAN) was established. Its purpose being, “to promote opportunities, facilities and organizations which will enable the children of all nations to develop physically, mentally and socially and in a normal manner …and in particular, to promote the protection of every child, in every country against all forms of cruelty and exploitation.” Thus, from its inception (which predates the CRC), ISPCAN has taken a child’s rights approach to child abuse and neglect.
Henry Kempe (U.S.) was the first president of ISPCAN and his vision led to ISPCAN’s international focus. Henry is described by all who knew him as a remarkable person. He was renowned for having the uncanny ability to get people “to do,” and “do well,” what they thought was undo-able. Henry held the position for five years and “almost single-handedly managed the organization’s affairs” before handing it over to Alfred White Franklin (UK) at the 1980 Congress in Amsterdam, Netherlands.
ISPCAN’s work embodies Henry Kempe’s desire that “all of us working in the field never cease to ask difficult questions, to challenge ourselves to reach beyond what is possible and to strive for what is needed to protect children.”